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School Sales Tax Headlines Athens Ballot This November

Clarke Middle School will be completely rebuilt now that voters approved a sales tax referendum. Credit: Blake Aued

A completely new Clarke Middle School, an expansion and upgrades to Cedar Shoals High School and improvements in HVAC and other systems for aging elementary schools top the list of projects that would be funded by the upcoming ESPLOST.

If voters approve the measure Nov. 2, the sixth such ESPLOST benefitting the Clarke County School District, officials expect it to generate $120 million over five years. The fifth penny sales tax has funded big capital projects that include, among other things, a new Hilsman Middle School, a new Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, renovations at Coile Middle School and Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School, industrial and cosmetology labs at the Athens Community Career Academy and improved athletic facilities at both Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals high schools.

It is also paying for renovating the former Prince Avenue campus of Piedmont College into school district headquarters, which will consolidate employees under one roof—except for operations. Officials said the new headquarters, which provides 70,000 square feet of office space, is scheduled to open in December.

At $35 million, the biggest ticket item in ESPLOST 6 is a new Clarke Middle School. The current building has numerous, well-known problems, including bug infestations, plumbing and HVAC problems, leaking pipes and stained carpet. Students will continue using the existing building while a new one is being constructed behind it. Although the local building committee at Clarke Middle hasn’t yet finalized a design for the new school, facilities manager John Gilbreath did share a few details: An education wing will be built on what is now the soccer field next to the ACC Library, and the soccer/football field will be moved to the baseball field in the back. A gymnasium—with a roof high enough for playing volleyball—will face Baxter Street. The HVAC system will allow more air changes per hour. The local building committee will have further concerns and suggestions.

Another $25 million is earmarked to renovate and expand Cedar Shoals High School, which was built in 2000 and renovated in 2004. The school needs a completely new HVAC, a new elevator and furniture. The building committee is looking at whether more space is necessary in the cafeteria and the media center.

Built in 2004, Gaines Elementary is old enough to need a complete system upgrade, officials said. There are several trailers being used as classrooms, so the campus could be expanded to accommodate those students, Gilbreath said.

A future elementary school off Jefferson River Road, known as School C, which has been discussed for years, could be delayed further when district officials vacate the Whitehead Road Annex. Eight classrooms will open up when those employees move to Prince Avenue. To justify building School C, there needs to be 400 combined “extra” students at Whitehead Road, Oglethorpe Avenue and Cleveland Road elementary schools.

Other Elections

While ESPLOST will be the only thing on the ballot for most Flagpole readers, there are a few other elections happening in this off year. In Oconee County, voters will decide on a 1% sales tax for transportation, which would raise the total sales tax to 8% and bring in $56 million over an estimated five years for road repaving, intersection improvements and multi-use paths.

A number of small cities in the Athens area—including Winterville, Bogart, Watkinsville and North High Shoals—also have municipal elections. (Athens-Clarke County’s elections are on an even-year schedule.) Watkinsville Mayor Brian Brodrick, who just won a special election in June to replace Bob Smith, faces a challenge from Rebecca Billings. In addition, Carolyn Maultsby is challenging Post 2 incumbent Connie Massey. There is one contested race in North High Shoals, where Megan Cundiff and Jared Strickland are seeking Post 5 on the city council. In Bogart, Jenny Bridges, Greg Maddox and David Kilpatrick are vying for two at-large seats currently held by Bridges and Kilpatrick. In Winterville, Mark Farmer and Melissa Metzger are competing to fill Mary Quinn’s unexpired term.

Early voting continues through Friday, and polls will be open from 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Nov. 2. [Blake Aued]